Relics, Reliquaries and the Visual Culture of Group Sanctity in Late Medieval Europe
X. Golden Bones: The Goldene Kammer of St. Ursula and Early Modern Developments
From the sixteenth century onward, the cult became increasingly referred to as that of Ursula and her companions, as the name of the group’s leader gradually superseded the collective title of Eleven Thousand Virgins of Cologne. This is revealed in the nomenclature contained in liturgical texts of the time, as well as by the tendency to refer to their church as St. Ursula, and the decision of Angela Merici to name her order of holy women after St. Ursula.1 Despite the increased emphasis on the individual figure of St. Ursula, the cult continued to remain extremely popular as a focus of collective piety. The seventeenth century witnessed a marked spike in adorning the cult – both textually and monumentally – with particular emphasis on the group’s leader. The frontispiece of Aegidius Gelenius’ De admiranda sacra et civili magnitudine Coloniae, Cologne, published in 1645, consists of an engraving with a view of the city surrounded by many of its patron saints. It is hardly accidental that the central vertical axis portrays the cityscape of Cologne between the Three Magi adoring the Christ Child above and the Eleven Thousand Virgins below. This arrangement visually echoes the coat of arms of the city, also visible, with the three crowns above and the 1 Regarding Angela Merici’s life, consult Victor Coonin, “The Allure of Romanino’s Mystic Marriage of Saint Catherine,” in Old Masters in Context: Romanino’s “Mystic Marriage of Saint Catherine,” (Brooks Museum of Art Bulletin, No. 4), Victor Coonin, ed., Memphis: Brooks Museum of Art,...
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